My Pillar, My Beacon

Chapter 64

"Milord. I am..." Sarah stared out of the balcony adjacent to her suite, out over the Valley. The fragment was there. She could feel it. It, and so much more.

"Dustil Onasi." She stated with a smile, knowing he could not see it. It had been about as easy as she'd expected... there was no reason for Uthar to question her choice, she was the Lord, she'd dominated him in combat, and she got what she wanted, when she wanted it. That was the way of things. She half turned, measuring Dustil. There was a lot of his father in his face, the resemblance between what she saw in front of her, and what she'd seen on the very young image in Carth's Czerka file was undeniable. And equally undeniable, the flow of the Force through him...deep, strong, singing and pure. There was no way they were keeping this here. It was a waste, even if he was not Carth's son. This had sooooo much potential.

"Well, that as well. But I am honored."

You've finally come for me.

What was that? It had been the thread of a thought, almost familiar. Almost Carth, but he was in the far corner, drinking in the sight of his child. His thoughts were pounding in her head, relief, amazement, joy, all open to her scrutiny. The thought had been wrapped snugly, an attempt to hide it. All of Dustil was an attempt to All. He'd been waiting. He'd been waiting for her? She closed the distance, slowly, reaching out to rest her fingertips on his cheeks.

This will end when she comes for me. She's promised me. She's here. She's with my father. They've come. They've finally come.

"Yes. Gather your things and bring them back here. You're no longer a student here."

"Yes...master." He bowed deeply, backing a few steps away before he turned his back on her to leave. They'd taught him well. She wasn't certain what was going on, yet, but it didn't matter. Leaving him here was completely out of the question. It would be like leaving Mission behind on Taris...just because Korriban wasn't under orbital bombardment at the moment didn't make it a good place for someone who was supposed to be part of her family.

"Thank you." Carth had come up behind her, far enough in the gloom to where he was not visible to those who might be watching her, but as close as he could get.

What a hilarious and sad statement. He was the last one who should be thanking her for anything at all. He'd been her rock up until this point, and was still holding pretty fast under this new pressure that fate had thrown at him. "Don't thank me yet. We're not out of here."

"I know that." He wrapped his arms around her when she finally gave in and left the balcony, retreating into the dim cool of her rooms. "But he's alive, Sarah. He's right there. Had we not come here, I would have never found him."

And that was an undeniable truth. "I know. But Carth...we still need to hold on to what we're doing here. I will do my damnedest to get him out of here, breathing and in one piece, but I do not trust him. He's been here a good amount of time, they've had time to mess with him. He doesn't need to know what we're up to until we get him out of here." There was a good chance that Dustil had a makeshift brig, guarded by a veteran Mandalorian, in his near future. But they'd deal with that later.

He sighed, resting his forehead against her shoulder. "I know. I know. And I'll keep it up as long as I have to."

Not much further. It wasn't going to be easy for him to play cowed slave to her, under his son's eyes, she understood that. But it was going to have to be part of the deal. They had too much riding on this.

"You know where the fragment is?" He asked, releasing her and stepping away. "You sense it? Remember it?"

"It's there. I feel it." Off to the left, deep within the Valley. The final fragment. The final piece to the puzzle. But it wasn't as if finding it meant it was all over, no, it simply meant it was beginning. Finding the Star Forge was only the first step. After that, they had to figure out what to do about it.

"We'll look back on this and have a drink..."

Perhaps. Perhaps not. She wished she could incite a little more optimism in her own soul, but it didn't want to show itself. It felt like she was hemmed in... Of course it did. She was on Korriban. Too many things, both palpable and ephemeral, were out there, just on the edges of her perception. They lurked there, just shadows in her mind. Faint memories of something she had been once, held against her will, twisted into a mockery of herself. Never again. I see you now. I know I can fall, but I will not do it again. That would work, if this all didn't feel so damned right. It was like she was finally able to be... no. That had been part of it. She saw it now. There was a very thin line between protector and owner. She'd stepped over that line with Alek...Malak...and she wouldn't do it with Carth. Or Dustil.

"Good. I'd like to get off of Korriban as soon as possible."

Of course he did. It was sane, and now, even saner. He had two people he loved and wanted to take care of. The sooner all three of them were off of Korriban, the better. She knew it, but there was still a haunting draw to this place. If she was alone, this would be a wonderful place to simply vanish into.

Korriban is a place of learning, reflection...insight.

Korriban was a wellspring of the dark side, not something she should seek insight from.

If you do not accept your past failings, you will repeat them.

She couldn't do that again. If she did, she doubted if she'd get another chance like this one, a slate wiped clean. A man willing to stand behind her to give her a hand up out of the darkness. This was her last opportunity to hold onto being a person that wasn't a monster.

You cannot turn your back on what you will learn about yourself here. What you will learn about Carth here. The final bonds you will need to confront Malak will be sewn down, here.

Final bonds? Dustil returned as if the thought itself had summoned him and she weighed him through an unyielding stare. It was insanity to believe that he could hold Bastila's place through this...his 'apprentice status' was just a ruse, a ploy to get him out of here...right?

You are not in a position to waste your resources. You have taken responsibility for have claimed mastery of him. Do not lie.

Take Dustil to the Valley of the Sleeping Kings, to Naga Sadow's tomb, as her apprentice? Take him on to the Star Forge as the same? It was insanity. She hadn't taken Bastila with her to War, and she'd had years of training and work with her.

And maybe that was a fatal mistake. You always held yourself to a higher standard when you had her with you. Always lived, ate and breathed being her master. Alek was your co-conspirator in everything, your contemporary, your friend, your lover, but Bastila was what you tried to rise to be exemplary for. She was a responsibility, an honor, one you deliberately slipped away from when you went off to War. Everything here has been another chance. Another life, to replace the one you'd made. Another man, to replace the one you'd broken. And now, another young one to be responsible for; another set of unblinking eyes that learns from you. And now, this one is tied by blood to your man... the Force can be inexorable.

"My belongings...master. Or should I say, your belongings?" Dustil laid his duffel in front of her and backed away, watching her with a mixture of fear and amazed wonder. He did a good job of trying to hide it, but it was still there, under the surface.

She brushed off the statement with a flick of her fingertips. She'd go through them later, to make certain he didn't have something he shouldn't have...both deliberately and clandestinely. She didn't put it past Uthar to have added some things to his possessions. She didn't put it past Uthar to have done a whole lot of things, none of them good. He was simply mid-level management and bringing her down would be a bright point in his career...and he didn't even know the half of it.

"Milord, your plans?" Ah, Dustil. She could sense his urge to bite down his father and rise in her eyes. How very, very Sithy, but nothing she would tolerate for long. She was not in the mood to listen to him try to pick his father apart...after all, his father was her chosen consort. He was simply her apprentice.

"We go into the Valley. I assume you have a lightsaber?"

He swallowed deeply...the faintest trace of a frown carving its way between his thick brows when she stuck her hand out imperiously in his direction. He finally relinquished it, dropping it into the palm of her hand and she turned it over, scrutinizing it, sensing it. Following the bonds of its creation to Dustil, and finding them lacking. It was not his, it was even less his than the one she'd created on Dantooine. That crystal had at least called to her...this was strictly functional, its artificially manufactured crystal a spiritual blank. She had more of a bond to the offhanded lightsaber she had taken off of an enemy's seemed to have an easy going 'personality', at ease with a change of ownership... She pulled it again, regarding it thoughtfully. "Try this one." She sighed, handing it over to Dustil. It would never be 'right', but there was a chance that it was not horribly 'wrong'. And the one he'd had was horribly wrong.

"That's yours, milord. I shouldn't." He argued, taking it from her grip. It rested solidly across his palm, his fingers curling around it easily.

"No, it's not." Not in the way he meant. Yes, she could fight with it and make it look good, it was a solid weapon, but it would never be hers. "Took it out of the dead hand of the last Sith Lord who tried to better his position by killing me. The grip is too wide for me, anyway." But not too large for his, he was as tall as his father was, and probably wasn't quite done growing yet. He had the same lanky, angular build that she'd seen in Carth's younger pictures, if it wasn't for his darker coloration, his heavier brows, he'd be a dead match to those images in the Czerka datapad. "And if you're coming into the Valley with us, I need you armed." There were things in those shadows, things in those tombs... She hadn't recovered him just to lose him days later as a terentatek chew toy. If that happened, she'd have to carry Carth out of here. And yes, there were others here, in the Academy, who could still strike at him. After all, apprentice to a Sith Lord was a valuable position, and how better to rise to it than killing the one currently occupying it? "Try to use it on me, and you'll be picking up your hand."

"I understand, milord."

"And one other thing." He raised dark brown eyes to stare her straight in the face, unflinching. "You are mine. He..." She jerked her chin at the stubbornly silent Carth, who was watching, weighing. "Is mine as well. You get lippy with him, and I'll give you scars to match his. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, milord."

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